OROVILLE — Five environmental groups say the state Department of Ecology failed to consider key elements of state environmental standards when it certified a proposal to rebuild Enloe Dam near Oroville last month.
The five groups — American Whitewater, Sierra Club’s Washington chapter, the North Cascades Conservation Council, the Center for Environmental Law & Policy, and the Columbia River Bioregional Education Project — filed an appeal this month with the state Pollution Control Hearings Board, questioning Ecology’s water quality certification.
Water quality certification is one of many requirements in a proposal by the Okanogan County PUD to rebuild the Enloe Dam to generate electricity.
The PUD has been working for seven years toward restarting operations at the dam, which was built in 1920 but stopped producing power in 1959 when it became cheaper to buy from the Bonneville Power Administration.
The full project will be considered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and water quality certification from the state is one of the requirements.
The groups claim that if the Okanogan County PUD is allowed to rebuild the dam to generate power, it will nearly dewater the Similkameen River, and hugely detract from the aesthetic aspects of a new hiking trail that goes to the Similkameen Falls, where the dam would be built.
Ecology officials say the certification actually prohibits the utility from dewatering the river. “We are requiring they maintain a certain amount of water in the river at all times,” said Ecology spokeswoman Joye Redfield-Wilder.
Those amounts include at least 10 cubic feet per second from September to July, and at least 30 cubic feet per second from July to September.
But Jere Gillespie, an Oroville area resident and spokeswoman for the Bioregional Education Project, said the that river usually has far more water, and reducing it to 30 cfs amounts to a trickle. On Friday, the Similkameen near Nighthawk contained 948 cfs, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s river flow data. The average flow in mid-August is over 700 cfs, it said.
“Little or no water will flow over the face of the dam, or over Similkameen Falls, for about eight months of the year,” Gillespie added.
She said taking that much water out of that stretch of river will also disappoint hikers who are flocking to a newly-built Similkameen Trail as part of the 1,200-mile Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail.
“Right now, the community is really enjoying that trail. There are people on it every day,” she said. The trail includes signs, benches and a refurbished train trestle. “It’s so handsome, and when you walk over it, you can look down and see the salmon, when they’re running,” she said.
Redfield-Wilder said the state’s water quality certification is simply gives the state an opportunity to weigh in on the project, which must be approved federally.
She said the state set several conditions, including the expectation that the project will protect acquatic life.
“In the certification, there’s a built-in opportunity for us to require them to change their practices if water quality is not being protected,” she said.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512